Geneviève Sicotte

I call SDV my ‘imaginary food museum’. It takes the form of a website in which I present intimate food stories using a multimodal approach that combines words, images, and sound. In this museum, there are three virtual spaces where the visitor can wander and resonate on different levels—aesthetic, affective, intellectual—with the material. The first space is ‘Infra,’ which means below or underneath. Then comes ‘Life Itself,’ which constitutes the core of the work. Finally, the visitor arrives at ‘Offscreen,’ where written texts unfold in a more reflexive manner.

‘Infra’ is composed of ten short video poems resembling haikus, written over a slowly moving image, with a minimalist soundtrack. These poems may seem enigmatic initially, but they take on their full sense as the visitor moves to the next zone. At first, however, they can be enjoyed as if one were in a subconscious or dreamlike state. Each one features a single food. The stripped-back images and dark backdrop induce the rhythm of an introspective contemplation and may trigger sensory memory and imagination. The short and evocative phrases of the poems attempt to convey the subjective—but potentially shared—meanings of these food. The sound environment is composed of whispered words and ethereal musical touches. This choice translates the fact that here, in this world below the surface, words barely exist: they are still only bits of language, signs that are slowly taking shape.

The second zone, ‘Life Itself,’ features six short video vignettes with audio narration and music. In each video, I recount a story about specific foods linked to crucial transitions in my life. In one narration, I recall a childhood puppet called ‘Bone-Meat,’ with which I associate the consumption of raw meat, at once painful and satisfying. In ‘Deprivation,’ the memory of a vegetable purée evokes a reflection on need and resilience. I approach illness and death in ‘Mourning’ by recounting a lobster meal that becomes a kind of funeral rite. In ‘Nourish,’ the milk of a smoothie becomes a powerful and healing food. While these stories are my own, the fact that they focus on life transitions allows for some resonances with the lived food experience of the visitor.

The final room of the visit is ‘Offscreen’. It contains seven short essays accompanied by a very discreet soundscape. Again, I write about the same foods, but with a reflexive tone. The research-creation process loops back on itself and allows for the return of a more intellectual and possibly traditional approach. I have nonetheless tried to preserve multimodal and polyphonic writing. The essays resonate within themselves and with the material of the other spaces of the work, taking on the same themes and stories, but with a different angle. For example, I recount how I had to physically manipulate and prepare different foods for the making of the work, or I reflect on the paradoxes of the digital representation of material objects. I also mix genres and weave a poem into each of the texts to avoid a rigid theoretical discourse. This use of a different genre signals the status of the text: it states that here, words have layered meanings. Again, the visitor’s input is required since they are expected to actively project themselves into an open interpretation.

As a whole, the structure of SDV is ‘rhizomatic’ (Deleuze & Guattari 1980), relying on links and resonances between different components. These relations remain implicit, to be deciphered. The enigmatic poems or the fragmentary narrations allow the visitor to fill in the blanks—or not. To support this interpretative activity, I favor a slow delivery of content, including silence at some points. If there is some reiteration or a tentative explanatory discourse, it serves to shed different lights on the same object, to promote multi-modality, to be open to various angles. What is the significance of a raspberry? This question arises at many points in SDV, but the answers are varied, and none is definitive. They may refer to the senses, a certain disposition of the body, childhood memories, an attention to the materiality of food, in a spectrum of meanings that are complementary and fluid.

At the same time, a visit to SDV is designed to be carried out in a certain order, from the first to the last space. And if the visitor can randomly choose the content within the first and third zone, a specific sequence is proposed in ‘Life Itself’. In that sense, a degree of linearity remains, even if the components are discreet and fragmented. There is of course no guarantee that every user will follow the path I suggest. If someone wants to take a shortcut or do the visit backward, it is possible, and will probably make some sort of sense. The permission I give myself to stroll and wander works two ways; it also extends to my ‘model reader’ (Eco 1979).

By incorporating these structural characteristics, which can best be described as structural tensions, I try to provide an opening for the user, a space for their experience. Academic research favors—in many cases rightly so—a discourse without ambiguities, where meaning emerges by linear, incremental additions, and where interpretative gaps are ultimately closed. As a result, the researcher’s voice is conceived as authoritative, providing reliable ideas and even some truths. This model also supposes a unidirectional (and effective!) communication model where meaning is going from the writer to the reader. With SDV, I try to contest and subvert this model. I must admit, it goes against my own inclination. But it is an interesting and necessary undertaking, especially because the subjective aspects of food that I explore cannot be dealt with through the Cartesian model of thinking. My voice becomes the gentle companion on the user’s journey, my stories and reflections offer a shared intimate moment, and the whole work offers resonances of body and food experience through identification and imagination.

While each of the vignettes has its own narrative arc, they also form a total trajectory. I describe it as an autobiography through food, a story told through touches and fragments. I would sum it up like this: How can one go from deprivation to true food, from motherlessness to motherhood, from raw meat to milk? The theme of affective wounds is omnipresent, but ultimately solace and appeasement are achieved.

The audio narration of the short stories adopts an intimate tone, as if I were confiding in the ear of the visitor. The music enriches the emotional depth of each story. And, of course, the images have their own language and add an indispensable layer of complexity. I use them not as simple illustrations, but in an autonomous fashion, trying to have a dynamic and sometimes even devious dialogue between what is said and what is shown. They also speak to the body of the visitor: even if they show food in a virtual and non-material way, they enhance the sensoriality of the experience. If there is an embodiment here, it comes from the specific action of the imagination, from the play of sensory and affective memories by which the visitor can project themself in the stories.